Ambuje Likambale’s column: A candidate is born in Malawi

On the occasion of the birthday of Mr. Austin Atupele Muluzi

The minimum constitutional age for one to qualify to be a presidential candidate in Malawi is 35. Austin Atupele Muluzi attains that age today, August 6th. 2013. If Home Affairs Minister Uladi Mussa had difficulties with Mr. Muluzi’s age before today, he had a constitutional point. After today, however, those reservations make no legal sense whatsoever and Mr. Mussa will be offending the constitutional sensibilities of Malawi’s electorate if he keeps on harping on this point.

The famous political amphibian Mussa, also known as Mr. Change Goal because of his tendency to weasel his way to whichever party is in power and can offer him a post, has recently used characteristically virulent language to demonize Mr. Muluzi’s age and his candidacy in the general elections of next year. Today should mark the end of that nonsense.

If Mr. Mussa’s point is that Mr. Muluzi is a young and energetic man, the point is valid. But since when were youth and energy, in and of themselves, negative qualities? If Mr. Mussa thinks being young and active is bad, logically he must also think being old and decrepid is good – which I think most reasonable people would dispute.

Atupele Muluzi: Turns 35
Atupele Muluzi: Turns 35

It is a brave new world out there now, Mr. Mussa, not the world of yesteryear, and it is looking for young, active/activist leaders who are aware of the issues that confront it. Those issues include, but are not limited to, social justice, human rights and civil liberties, sustainable development, sound environmental policies and ecologically sustainable investments – especially investments in our most valuable resource: our people. A bold new leadership must be energetic, tech-savvy and conversant with the currents of globalization and how to ride them for the benefit of the people of Malawi. Is that a job for the infirm?

The 2014 election must be a political watershed. It should present the country with clear choices between maintaining the old style, paternalistic leadership that puts itself above the people; and a new one that personifies the aspirations of a new generation of Malawians who are ready to join others in the world in a fresh engagement with global challenges for the benefit of all. Crucially, it must be an election that offers a unique opportunity for a real change in how we do politics.

Happily, Malawians now show signs that they are past being hoodwinked by the politics of kutukwanizana of the older generations and are ready to ‘change goal’ towards an electoral campaign that focuses on the issues that affect them on the national scene; in the towns and villages; in their communities; as well as in their families and individual pockets. Malawians also seem ready to transmogrify their relationshp with government from the old style that emphasized a stagnant dependency on freebies ‘from the leader’s own pocket’; to a new model in which government is a catalyst for establishing a culture of contribution and accountability towards individual, community, municipal and national progress.

The world is changing

In Malawi and in many countries affecting us, leadership has passed from the influence, even the presence, of the older generations. Ngwazi Dr. Kamuzu Banda died many years ago and Bingu wa Mutharika only last year. Mrs. Margaret Thatcher of Great Britain passed away earlier this year and South Africa’s Nelson Mandela is 95 years old and believed to be in serious condition in hospital. Dr. Kenneth Kaunda is pushing 90 and long retired in Zambia. George Herbert Walker Bush, the 41st President of the United States, is 89 and believed to be frail. His son, the 43rd President George W. Bush, served two terms and left the White House – and this after an intervening two-term presidency of Bill Clinton between father and son.

Americans are now in the second term of the youthful presidency of Barack Obama, 52. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister David Cameron is only 47 whereas the Leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition and head of the Labour Party, Ed Milliband, is ony 44. Even our neighbouring Kenyans saw fit to elect as their new President the tech-savvy Uhuru Kenyata, 51. Watch out, the youth movement is taking over!

Like in Great Britain, the United States, Kenya and other countries, Malawians are yearning for new, youthful and vigorous leadership to bring about change for the benefit of the country, now and in the future. I do not know what the retirement age is in Malawi’s civil service now. It used to be 65. However, it would seem absurd for one to become a first-time candidate for the presideny when one is already past the civil service retirement age. If a mandatory retirement age in government is in recognition, among other things, of the fact that one has crested past one’s most productive years, how does that same person suddenly become suitably vigorous and rigorous for the demands, physical and mental, of the state presidency?

Of course it is not just about being young. However, a new generation leader will understand better than the older generations that a head of state ought to act in the way urged in the Catholic Bishops letter of October 31st, 2010. Among that letter’s recommendations is, for example, the fact that presidents ought to properly consult on issues of national importance and that such consultation must give room to contrary opinions and allow for debate and dialogue without government reprisals against those who hold views contrary to its own.

The bishops also pointed out that the public media, paid with tax payers’ money, must ensure that the general public is informed in a balanced fashion and that private media houses not suffer government reprisals for editorizing or reporting against the government of the day. A new generation leader might better understand, too, that food security issues should not be politicised – certainly not to the extent we have seen with our old-style leaders over the years. Corruption mkati!

A new generational leader might finally do away with Malawi’s perrenial probem with tribalism in politics and nepotism in public appointments. Mr. Austin Atupele Muluzi would never make a ‘Mzuzu Corner’ style speech as did late President Bingu wa Mutharika, for exanple; or an ‘all teachers to their region’ speech as did Kamuzu Banda. A new generational leader will have a better chance to truly deal with corruption and to respect the human rights of Malawians, more so than the older leaders who have been part of the corrupt and oppressive system for donkey years.

The truth is, we have tried the old-style leaders and we all know the result. Somebody suggested that it is a sign of madness to keep trying the same ‘solutions’ and expect a different result. Happily, Malawians show signs that they are now ready for a different approach.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Muluzi

As the conventions are winding down, we have a pretty clear picture who the contestants for State President will be. Only the MCP, among the major parties, is to conclude a convention and it will apparently do so soon. The UDF will send Mr. Muluzi, 35, to the hustings whereas the governing People’s Party will obviously send incumbent President, Mrs. Joyce Banda, 63. For its part, the Democratic Progressive Party intends to field Arthur Peter Mutharika, 73. As things stand, therefore, this promises to be an interesting and exciting campaign. Of these candidates, only Mr. Muluzi has shown a willingness to eschew the old-style politics of personal castigation characteristic of the older candidates. Mr. Muluzi even resigned from Mrs. Banda’s cabinet because he was displeased with the podium castigation tactics of some of his cabinet colleagues including the political nomad Mr. Uladi Mussa.

It will serve the nation well if this campaign is characterized by a serious engagement with the issues, and not a war of vituperatives. The nation of Malawi is looking for a leader who can both engange the serious challenges of the nation and draw the people to himself or herself without having to cast negative aspersions at others. A castigator is not a leader and it is good for Malawi that Austin Atupele Muluzi is no castigator. That honour remains with Mr. Uladi Mussa and others.

For our part, we wish Mr. Muluzi a substantive and successful campaign. And, oh, I forgot, a happy birthday, too!


  • The author, Ambuje che Tom Likambale, is from Balaka Township, Malawi

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